Review: Fidelio: Alice’s Journey

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DIR: Lucie Borleteau • WRI: Lucie Borleteau, Clara Bourreau • PRO: Pascal Caucheteux, Marine Arrighi de Casanova, • DOP: Simon Beaufils • ED: Guy Lecorne • MUS: Thomas De Pourquery • DES: Sidney Dubois • CAST: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie

 

French actress and writer, Lucie Borleteau directs her first full-length feature film in a puckish, yet affecting portrait of a sexually permissive female freight engineer in Fidelio: Alice’s Journey. Ariane Labed plays the kittenish, thirty-year old titular character, who approaches her sexual affairs with missionary zeal and carnal abandon. Challenging conventional perceptions of gender roles through an anomalous approach to sexual conduct, Berleteau’s heroine steers a stormy voyage aboard an all-male freight ship, whipping up a priapic frenzy that tests her attitudes to love and commitment, which she confronts with fear and uncertainty.

When a member of the crew suddenly dies under dubious circumstances, Alice is drafted in as his replacement leaving behind her besotted Norwegian lover, Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie) and yearning for the passionate intimacy they both enjoy. Once aboard, she discovers the captain of the voyage is her first true love, Gaël (Melvil Poupaud) and in spite of her valiant efforts to remain faithful, she cannot resist her overwhelming desire for him. Ever the idealist, Alice sees no reason not to indulge two lovers and she rekindles an affair with the charismatic captain. Accidently discovering the journal of the deceased engineer, whose life was consumed with loneliness through uninspiring liaisons, prompts Alice to embark on an odyssey of self-discovery to find out what exactly she wants from life.

An accessible yet profoundly philosophical tale of love, fidelity and desire, the strength of Fidelio: Alice’s Journey lies in its candid celebration of female sexual pleasure amidst the sexually deprived, testosterone-fuelled environment of a laboriously gruelling and isolating blue-collared profession. By no means promoting a feminist perspective, Borleteau, rather, normalises and endorses female sexual autonomy and while an uninhibited sexual agenda is at the helm of the sex-drenched narrative, the emotional sensitivity that arises from Alice’s physical encounters, communicates more to Alice about her desires and needs than any articulated dialogue between her lovers. Alice’s negotiation of her sexual encounters through her own sedulous, self-governance becomes the catalyst to propel her onto a spiritual journey of self-enlightenment and finally find the self-fulfillment she craves.

Ariane Labed is a revelation as Alice, whose nuanced yet emotionally charged performance, not only anchors the core narrative but navigates the philosophical subtexts with both a skittish mischievousness and an intense urgency to encapsulate the challenges and contradictions of a sexually liberated, yet keenly introspective woman, who is clouded by wanton lust in her pursuit of self-realisation. Labed steers the spicy saga with such compulsion and conviction, that without such emotional intelligence driving Alice’s personal narrative however, Borleteau could be in danger of simply delineating another prosaic, albeit erotic, tale about a beautiful thirty-something seeking sexual and emotional stability.

Alice’s personal trajectory takes centre stage to such an extent that the multicultural supporting characters, who are so crucial on her voyage of discovery and transformation, become mere bit players, only slightly colouring the narrative through their own amusing rituals amidst the drab and soulless space, that at times, it becomes slightly puzzling as to why Borleteau did not take more advantage of such a playful mix of characters to formulate a more coherent narrative structure. However, it is a testament to Labed’s breathtaking performance, that such a tried and tested narrative is kept above water by her emotional capacity to make visible and plausible the contradictory nature of balancing life and love, in an refreshingly audacious and esoteric manner.

The highly melodramatic romantic entanglements which permeate the narrative, is deftly encapsulated by cinematographer Simon Beaufils, whose atmospheric lens rhythmically pulsates with intense potency through the sexually-charged scenes of carnal desire. Tightly framed close-ups bring an emotional catharsis and deep sensitivity to the physical act of love, which sit in opposition to the expansive and endless seascapes that become threatening spaces of unnerving claustrophobia, which heighten rather than soothe, the heroine’s disquietude as she embarks on her emotional and spiritual quest. To Alice, her personal landscape of sexual pleasure is where she attains liberation and sense of self, the seascape and its vast silences, challenging, taunting and threatening.

By chartering sexually erotic waters in an uninhibited manner, which celebrates female sexuality from a sophisticated and enlightened perspective that is not often explored in cinema, Borleteau invites reflections upon the nature of relationships and the role sexual pleasure plays in the pursuit of love and commitment. Whether a balance between the body, mind and soul may be achieved through a commitment to one relationship or whether self-enlightenment is dependent upon a deep exploration of all sexual, emotional and professional components of interpersonal relationships is not neatly resolved by Borleteau, but she does however, ambitiously and audaciously subscribe to the philosophy that self-gratification is one such pleasurable route to take when trying to figure it all out.

 Dee O’Donoghue

97 minutes

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey is released 2nd October 2015

 

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